Ray Bryant, Hank Crawford, Heavy Flute: Three By Label M
I have a belief that all writing must avoid the nominative singular pronoun, “I.” This is particularly necessary in reviews or interviews. What is any reader to think of an article allegedly about something or someone else when it’s littered with references to “I,” “me” and “my”? Who cares? A good writer will reveal personal knowledge or discourse in writing that easily avoids such personal interjections.
Well, since I’ve now contradicted my own theory, I’ll blame producer Joel Dorn. He makes it hard to avoid becoming personally involved with the music he puts out. After a long career that started with producing jazz hits at Atlantic Records 1965-1975, then catering productions to his favorite artists (David “Fathead” Newman), he’s had the good fortune to do just what he wants to do. In the 1980s, he launched his boutique label, Night Music, issuing never-before-heard performances by jazz legends, most of whom he’d befriended over the years. Then, Dorn returned in the 1990s with his own 32 Jazz Records (named for the number that all his football heroes wore), reissuing the Muse Records catalog along with some of his past achievements from the archive at Atlantic Records.
After his partnership with 32 Jazz soured, Dorn formed the Label M, interestingly named for the first and last initials of Dorn’s “three favorite Jews: Albert Einstein, Lenny Bruce and Meyer Lansky.” But his mission remains the same. He’ll only release music he likes – and stuff he thinks other people will want to hear. His well-designed packages (the graphics have improved a great deal since 32 Jazz) usually feature his own anecdotes and fascinating stories about the music and the players. He’s irreverent, a bit outspoken and always entertaining. But his point is always crystal clear: it’s about the music, and he’s pleased as punch to share it with the fans.
Even in its infancy, Label M is off to a very strong start. Dorn has scored a mother lode of never-before-issued recordings taped live at the Left Bank Jazz Society club in Baltimore during the 1960s and 1970s. These tapes have already yielded some music you’ve just got to hear from Stan Getz (in a challenging 1975 quartet set) and Sonny Stitt (who makes his electric sax swing harder than you can imagine on his 1971 organ trio set). Dorn’s also promised more Atlantic reissues and, fortunately, Label M is tapping more of Dorn’s own productions, like Eddie Harris/Les McCann’s quirky, but worthwhile Second Movement (1971) and Les McCann’s superb electric opus, Invitation To Openness (1971). Label M has even initiated some witty and vital collections dedicated to alto man Paul Desmond ( Lemme Tell Ya ‘Bout Desmond ) and the John Coltrane of the bagpipes: the great, great, underrated Rufus Harley ( The Pied Piper Of Jazz ).
Well, if I’ve made any point here it’s that Joel Dorn has certainly made a fan of one listener. I bet many others will be convinced too. I’ve chosen three of Label M’s recent releases to discuss here: Ray Bryant’s Somewhere In France, Hank Crawford’s Low Flame, High Heat and the funky compilation, Heavy Flute. But words can never do music justice. Just listen. Let Label M take you away.
Ray Bryant: Somewhere In France
Sometime back in 1993, a sound engineer handed pianist Ray Bryant a $1.98 cassette tape of a solo performance he’d just done in France. Bryant simply tossed the tape in a dining room cabinet with hundreds of other tapes. When Joel Dorn wanted to release something of Bryant’s on Label M, the pianist reached for this tape and Somewhere in France is the result. Bryant is known for his soulful juke box hits “Slow Freight” and “In The Back Room” (both included here) and respected for his solo piano albums Alone With The Blues (Prestige – 1958), Alone at Montreux (Atlantic - 1972) and Solo Flight (Pablo – 1976). He is a thoroughly engaging player who never lapses into private realms of introspection. However, he manages to communicate a special lyricism in clever, often memorable, turns of phrase that suggest – without getting bogged down in stride (“Jungletown Jubliee”), boogie woogie (“Take The A Train,” “After Hours”), ballads (“When I Look In Your Eyes,” “Until It’s Time For You To Go”) and blues (“Willow Weep For Me”). Considering the source, the sound here is superb. Bryant himself is a joy to hear. He’s that rare musician who respects and relishes a good melody. He digs in and delivers lines in his own distinctive voice, without ever letting you forget the source of what you’re hearing. And what you hear here is every bit as entertaining and enlightening as his soulful hits and previous solo landmarks. Imagine what else must be in that dining room cabinet!
Hank Crawford: Low Flame, High Heat
Hank Crawford’s instantly identifiable alto sax sound has long been associated with ballads and blues. Lately, though, the still reliable Crawford seems to weave his act into more of a lounge groove. But when Crawford recorded for Atlantic (1960-70), he churned out album after album of high-power ballads and blues showpieces. Label M’s Crawford compilation, Low Flame, High Heat is a winning collection of 11 of the alto’s most “after hours” styled ballads and blues recorded during his Atlantic reign. Interestingly, compiler Joel Dorn sticks with Crawford’s earlier Atlantic sides (between 1960 and 1966) – before he himself started producing Crawford and taking him down funkier paths. What else is interesting is that during this particular period, Crawford was Ray Charles’s musical director – and there’s not a pianist to be heard on this collection that spans some six LPs. With guitar often part of the rhythm section (and Charles’s particular affinity in tact), the whole collection seems like more of a tribute to Count Basie’s influence, particularly when Crawford covers Ellington (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) and frequent Charles collaborator, Percy Mayfield (“But On The Other Hand,” “Two Years Of Torture,” “Danger Zone”). Overall, though, this is a superb representation of Hank Crawford at his bluesy best.
Various Artists: Heavy Flute
Speaking of sax players, some of the most distinctive sax players are also some of the most characteristic and engaging flute players as well. But, unfortunately, they’re often too busy trying – or forced – to prove their sax chops to give too much time to the flute. Just about anybody can easily name five sax heroes. Who can name five flute heroes? Joel Dorn could. Whether it’s because Dorn’s first hit at Atlantic was for Hubert Laws in 1965 or simply because he liked the sound of the flute in jazz, he devoted an unusual amount of recording space to the too-little respected reed instrument. As you might expect, most of the players on Heavy Flute are primarily sax players. These are the guys David Newman (whose excellent “The Thirteenth Floor,” is heard here), Yusef Lateef (“Nubian Lady,” “Eboness”) and Charles Lloyd (“Sombrero Sam”) – whose albums today rarely, if ever, feature a flute. What a loss. All three offer especially personalized and fascinating flute sounds. However, Atlantic also housed two of the art’s most well-known practitioners: Herbie Mann (represented here by the 1962 hit, “Comin’ Home Baby,” and 1971’s “Push Push,” featuring Duane Allman) and Hubert Laws (“Let Her Go”), who recorded for Atlantic before he became ubiquitous in the 1970s on CTI. The late, great and forgotten Leo Wright is heard on the brief bossa nova boogaloo “The Wiggler” (1962) and multi-reed specialist Roland Kirk is heard twice on the relatively straight, but guttural “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971) and the wacky, a-little-too-saxy “One Ton” (1969). Heavy Flute, like any other themed collection, hits and misses. Still, it begs for more. And the Atlantic archive bristles with great examples of heavy, heavy flute. A “Two,” Mr. Dorn?
Somewhere In France1 Take The "A" Train 4:15 2 Blues in G/Willow Weep For Me 6:38 3 Con Alma 7:43 4 Slow Freight 7:04 5 Jungletown Jubilee 2:58 6 Django 6:40 7 After Hours 3:24 8 When I Look In Your Eyes 2:54 9 Good Morning Heartache 4:56 10 In The Back Room 5:26 11 If I Could Just Make It Into Heaven 3:56 12 St. Louis Blues 6:57 13 Until It's Time For You To Go 3:56
Low Flame, High Heat1 Don't Get Around Much Anymore 5:01 2 But On The Other Hand 5:01 3 Lorelei's Lament 5:36 4 Save Your Love Me 3:55 5 Angel Eyes 6:30 6 Two Years Of Torture 3:26 7 Easy Living 5:27 8 What Will I Tell My Heart 5:09 9 Don't Cry Baby 4:20 10 Danger Zone 3:27 11 You've Changed 3:16
Heavy Flute1 Comin' Home Baby: Herbie Mann 8:37 2 The Thirteenth Floor: David Newman 5:47 3 Nubian Lady: Yusef Lateef 6:33 4 Let Her Go: Hubert Laws 3:25 5 Ain't No Sunshine: Rahsaan Roland Kirk 2:26 6 The Wiggler: Leo Wright 3:07 7 Sombrero Sam: Charles Lloyd 5:12 8 One Ton: Rahsaan Roland Kirk 4:55 9 Eboness: Yusef Lateef 4:42 10 Push Push: Herbie Mann 9:55